Curtis Keith Bankston and Sophia Simm-Bankston were arrested after Georgia police found eight people locked up in their basement. Police believe they were operating an illegal group home and the individuals were being held against their free will. An investigation is ongoing.
The couple was charged with false imprisonment and all the victims have been removed from the home and placed with appropriate care and housing.
The Griffin City Police Department released a statement and said, “The ‘caretakers’ have been leasing this property for approximately fourteen months, using the basement as a personal care home for the individuals, which essentially imprisoned them against their will, which created an extreme hazard as the individuals could not exit the residence if there were an emergency,” the police department said. “It was further determined that most, if not all, of the individuals residing in the basement were mentally and/or physically disabled.”
According to reports, the eight individuals are between the ages of 25 and 65.
Curtis Keith Bankston called himself a pastor and according to reports, the couple was running a group home for their church, One Step of Faith 2nd Chance. It is unclear if this was true. The Bankstons’ attorney said that there was no church and that the eight people in their basement could leave whenever they wanted.
Attorney Dexter Wimbish said, “First, One Step of Faith 2nd Chance Ministries has not been operating a group home but a Christian Ministry that supplies room and board to individuals who have oftentimes been homeless or wards of the state.”
According to attorneys, the Georgia pastor registered his group home program with the state but failed to get it licensed. Records for the Georgia Secretary of State confirmed that the 55-year-old registered it as a nonprofit in August 2020 and that the couple provided room, boarding and food.
Georgia police became aware of the unlicensed group home when one of the Bankstons called 911 last week because one of the individuals was having a seizure. Officers arrived at the Valley Road home and discovered that the door to the basement was deadbolted. Emergency personnel had to crawl through a window to get to the patient.
“It’s both frightening and disgusting to see the degree to which these individuals have been taken advantage of,” police said.
After an investigation officers say Sophia and Curtis Keith Bankston also controlled the finances of these people and even withheld important medication and medical care.
“It was further determined that the Bankston[s’] were in control of the disabled individuals’ finances, medication, and public benefits,” cops said. “The investigation also revealed that these individuals had been denied their medications and, in some instances, medical care as well.”
Wimbish denied these claims and said that the whole situation was misunderstood. The attorney claims that his clients locked the basement door during certain hours, like at night, so the individuals with severe mental disabilities wouldn’t wander off and hurt themselves.
He also said that one person in the basement had a key to unlock the door. That individual was not there when the police entered the home.
“Everybody inside this home was here on their own free will. They were free to come and go as they please. No one was kept, held hostage,” he said.
During a press conference on Thursday, numerous religious leaders spoke for the couple and said that they were good people who always fed the homeless.
Curtis Carter, pastor of 1st True Faith Deliverance Church in Decatur, said he knew Curtis Keith Bankston for over 30 years. The pastor said, “For me to hear the allegations against him, it disturbed my spirit because he’s worked with my church, he’s worked in my community and his character is beautiful. He’s not a so-called pastor or so-called preacher. He is a man of God.”
Police continue to investigate and are asking anyone with a family member involved to contact their office.